Fresh, full of life, and in a galaxy far, far away

I’ve had a long, long day dealing with various bits of family business and my brain really isn’t fully functional right about now. So, stumbling over a YouTube meme in which usually ultraviolent scenes from classic films are recut to the music from Mentos commercials was really just what I needed. I have no explanation of why my two favorites are from “Star Wars” movies. I’ll just have to live with it.

Really, all commercials would be improved by featuring a Christopher Lee decapitation scene.

  

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RIP Tom Mankiewicz

The son of the great writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”) and nephew of equally great screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (“Citizen Kane,” “The Pride of the Yankees”), Tom Mankiewicz was by his own admission understandably intimidated by his relatives’ example. Still, he forged a reputation as a solid screenwriter and an ace script doctor, writing the final drafts of 1978’s “Superman” and 1980’s “Superman II” as well as “polishing” a number of scripts including “War Games,” “Gremlins” and Tim Burton’s “Batman.” He died today at age 68. According to his L.A. Times obituary, he had been undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.

I want to remember Mankiewicz with the fun, and only slightly silly, openings to two of the most underrated entries in the James Bond series. The deliriously brutal “Diamonds are Forever” from 1971 and probably my favorite Roger Moore Bond, 1974’s “The Man With the Golden Gun” (which I’m not sure if I’ve even seen as an adult).  Note how both openings cleverly break the mold of most of the pre-credit sequences in the series. A necessity in the first case because of Connery’s temporary replacement by George Lazenby on “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and the unusually dark ending of that film which sets Bond off on a deadly vendetta against Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The second doesn’t even include the live Roger Moore, but we do see quite a bit of the great Christopher Lee as perhaps Bond’s most skillfully deadly nemesis, and Hervé Villechaize in a role which no doubt inspired the creators of the humorously awful “Fantasy Island.”

It really has been a long time since I saw this. All I’d like to know is — what was the Tabasco for? I didn’t see any breakfast. Gratuitous early product placement? H/t Mubi – David Hudson

  

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Tuesday night at the movies

A busy day in tinseltown, but I’ve got to keep things brief tonight.

Spiderman* Nikki Finke is breaking the story that “Spiderman 4” is on hold due to script problems. In other words, Sam Raimi supposedly “hates” the screenplay a large of number of screenwriting cooks have been preparing.  The latest to get his hands on the script is screenwriting standby Alvin Sargent, who worked at the past two Spidey movies and is, at 82, probably by far the most senior fellow writing comic book movies these days. And, oh yeah, it might be in 3-D.

* In another scoop for the Finkster, she reports that underage It-boy Taylor Lautner is Hollywood best compensated teen and now being paid “per ab,” though he apparently has half an ab. I wonder if I get figure out a way to get paid per nose hair.

* Anne Thompson reports that Sam Mendes is “in talks” to direct the next James Bond movie. This would be a major change of pace for the director best known for the Oscar-winning, cinephile-derided, “American Beauty” and “Road to Perdition,” whose attempt at an indie dramedy, “Away We Go,” failed to set the world on fire last year.

* T-Bone Burnett, a superb musician and record producer who has found his greatest fame working on “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” and pretty much every major film with a country music/Americana aspect to it, tells Kim Masters a moving story about how the late musician Stephen Brutan influenced the filming of “Crazy Heart” with Jeff Bridges.

* And how can we get through a day without mentioning “Avatar“? If you’ve been wondering how the Na’vi nasty is done, you’ll get some “soft R” clues, I’m guessing, on the special edition DVD. That’s the word from Huffington Post. I guess we’ll have to wait longer to have 3-D big screen alien-sex.

* On a vastly more serious “Avatar” related note, the Washington Post reports that James Cameron is openly considering making a hard-hitting film about nuclear weapons and traveled to Japan — the only country to ever be attacked with nuclear weapons — to start researching it last month. This is the kind of film you can make with a major studio after you have the kind of monster hit Cameron appears to have on his hands.

As for the research, not all of us are able to talk to survivors of the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki — I actually have, in another life, and consider myself lucky for having done so. If you’ve never read John Hersey’s Hiroshima, however, you should. The world might not be under constant threat of annihilation as it was up from the fifities to the late eighties, but nuclear weapons remain a serious threat. ‘Still, I’m sure Fox would be just as happy if Cameron decided to make “True Lies II.”

* It’s a big day for octogenarians breaking stereotypes just a bit. Christopher Lee is continuing his exploration of “orchestral metal.” I hope you enjoy his new direction.

* The Premium Hollywood/Bullz-Eye gang is quickly dividing into Blu-Ray “haves” and “have nots.” For the benefit of the “haves,” (a group that does not include me) Glenn Kenny recounts his favorite BR discs of 2009.

  

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Sir Christopher Lee, CBE, in a musical mood

He’s got an awe-inspiring 266 credits listed on his IMDb c.v. Nevertheless, finding good embeddable clips for Christopher Lee, one of the most beloved yet also underrated actors of the 20th and 21st centuries, hasn’t exactly been easy. Sad, considering how much enjoyment he’s given audiences, how many good movies he’s enlivened, and how many mediocre-to-godawful ones he’s come darn close to saving single-handedly. However, in honor of his well deserved knighthood today, we have what we have. And they both involve music.

My personal favorite Christopher Lee movie, and I think his as well, is 1973’s “The Wicker Man.” Below in a great scene which, for reasons much too complicated to go into here, is deleted from the most commonly seen version. In it, Lee as the avuncular and dangerous pagan Lord Summerisle takes part in a ritual with Britt Ekland as the local high priestess of sexuality. He also recites some poetry by Walt Whitman, as Edward Woodward’s repressed “Christian copper” tries to get to some sleep, snails make more snails, and Peter Giovanni sings the hauntingly erotic “Gently Johnny.”

The Wicker Man – Gently Johnny

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Lee actually sings — quite well — in “The Wicker Man” but that can’t be found. So, moving with warp speed from the sublime to the completely ridiculous, I found this incredibly strange number featuring a full-throated Lee from “The Return of Captain Invincible,” an ultra-ultra-obscure very pre-“Dr. Horrible”  1983 superhero musical starring Alan Arkin and Lee, with music by a number of people including Richard O’Brien of “Rocky Horror” fame. In it, a villainous Sir Christopher sings of a subject of my own interest — cocktails. Always, a gentleman of taste.

  

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Friday film news dump, pre-Halloween edition

christopherlee

So much going on today that, unless my Google Reader is lying to me, not a single one of the many film sites and blogs on my list of usual suspects has mentioned that Christopher freaking Lee was knighted today. (I, however, will be paying my respects in the next post.)

Meanwhile….

* The biggest news of the day was expected, I guess. The New York offices of the once might mini-major Miramax, founded by Harvey and Bob Weinstein and since sold off to Disney, have been closed and the annual slate of films significantly downsized. In addition, the division’s “prexy” Daniel Battsek is stepping down, though he is supposed to be supervising the consolidation of the NYC and L.A. offices through January and no replacement has been set. Not surprising in tough times for “small” films. Anne Thompson partially blames what you might call movie mission creep, among other factors.

The main problem with the studio sub-divisions that are being slashed if not eliminated is that they simply don’t return enough on investment. They inevitably drift away from small-scale divisions that push low-budget films into more ambitious upscale operations with more employees and more overhead. With growth comes bigger budgets, more P & A, wider releases, more grandiose Oscar campaigns and often, smaller profits.

Her entire piece is definitely worth a look as she mentions how even some seemingly successful award pictures as “There Will Be Blood” and “Doubt” became money losers or earned less than you might think due to marketing costs and award campaigns.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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